Flocks Of Cranes In Flight Against Clouds Of Gold On Black Silk.
You know I’m sitting over here with a digital pile of photos of my work to sort through and process for sharing, and then a literal pile of kimono that need to be finished and then photographed for completion. But I just received this piece and I shoved everything aside with my whole body and threw whipped this onto my iko (kimono stand) for showcasing because holy fucking shiiit. Definitely not because I’ve completely lost control of my life or anything. -Shifty eyes- That would require me to have had, at one point, any semblance of control to begin with.
I knew she was old when I first saw her, because she was reasonably well photographed by the seller. The seller even knew basically what she was. I sat here thinking I spent too much on it when I made the decision to buy, and then it showed up and it’s long, and luxurious, and in damn near immaculate condition. Oh yeah, and it’s
old as balls almost certainly a Meiji Era piece.
I feel the need to point something out here. If you’re familiar with my blog at all (hiiii, thanks for coming back, I love you), then you know that I label a lot of my older pieces as “antique” rather than by a specific era. I’ve said before that I get real fucking uppity about what I throw the “Taisho” label on. I almost won’t do it at all if I don’t have at least word-of-mouth provenance on it; I rather describe it as “antique.” And as a refresher, my reasoning for this is because items from the Taisho Era are highly prized, and the era itself was dramatically shorter than the Meiji Era (preceding it) and the Showa Era (succeeding it).
It’s also worth a reminder for those who come here to learn (once again, I’m so sorry), that these eras are named for the Emperor who reigned during the dates in question. So it really is one day was the Taisho Era, and the next was the Showa, and it’s not like trends changed overnight.
This actually puts me in a weird spot, because trends do change, and they change noticeably and often very specifically. So now I have to explain to you with a straight fucking face as to why I’m actually ludicrously more comfortable slapping the Meiji label on a piece than I am with the Taisho.
Something happened in the late Meiji Era and into the Taisho Era that is quite significant, and quite identifiable: kamon (family crests) got smaller on women’s kimono, and the popularity of imported chemical dyes took off, leading to an explosion of colors incorporated even on casual kimono. So if you know what you’re looking for, you can actually pretty easily spot the transition from Meiji into the Taisho Era by following the colors and kamon sizes. I have a few pieces that I’m actually quite sure are Late Meiji or very early Taisho because they’re an explosion of colors with delightfully large kamon.
How large are the kamon, you ask? That’s a great question! The difference isn’t subtle. I’ll compare the kamon on today’s kimono to an applique I have that’s the size of a contemporary kamon. Behold:
It’s worth noting at this point that the size of the applique has been basically the standard size, with slight deviation since the middle Taisho era. Which makes it a really good place to start when dating a kimono. I also recommend dinner and a movie.
As we get further into the Taisho Era and then the Showa Era, as those giveaways go away, it becomes harder and harder to tell a late Taisho Era piece from an early Showa Era piece. In fact with very many of them, without provenance, it’s virtually impossible. Also the argument can and should be made that a kimono made on December the 24th 1926 is a Taisho Era piece, and a kimono made on December the 26th 1926 is a Showa Era piece. Even if they came from the same fucking store. Hell, they could be from the same design book.
I like to illustrate things like that just so that other people know how insanely specific this stuff can get. I like little details like that because I’m a goddamn psychopath, and art history is my kind of whimsical fuckery.
Bringing it back to this kimono, we have the beautiful red lining, the thiccccc–yes I need that many c’s, fight me–chirimen weave of the silk, the positively gargantuan kamon of the days of yore or some shit, and sweet but muted colors. All of these are hallmarks of a Meiji Era kimono. If we’re getting really specific, this is a kimono called a “kurohikifurisode.” Say that ten times fast, I dare you.
Kuro meaning black, hiki meaning trailing, and furisode meaning a kimono with real long flappy sleeves for an unmarried woman. Throw all of it together, and you get this, plus five kamon, which makes this the most formal garment a married woman can wear. It’s her wedding dress. In fact from what I’ve been told and researched myself (thanks, Roza!), the kurohikifurisode was actually a significantly more popular item than the uchikake (big ol’ honkin’ outer kimono for a bride) for wedding dresses for a very long time, and is still quite popular.
With all of the educational crap out of the way, can I talk about how goddamn near immaculate this majestic motherfucker is? This beautiful beast is over a century old–no that is not an exaggeration, the Meiji Era ended in 1912–and I’m about to give you the list of flaws I found on her, and you can just shit your goddamn pants right along with me. It’s okay, you can tell people that I shit your pants.
So what’s the damage?
There was a popped seam I fixed up real quick, and the kinsai (gold leaf paint) has worn off a bit in the clouds. There were a few areas where there was some actual, literal dirt on it that could be brushed off or scraped away with my thumbnail. (A thumbnail I’ve started filing to a point almost exclusively because it makes an amazing kimono scraping tool. Oh god help me what even is my life.)
Here’s a good example of the kinsai “damage.”
As you look at the gold flakes around the cranes, you can see what appears to be fading on the black. It’s not. It’s actually just where the sizing (whatever adhesive was used to bind the kinsai to the silk) is now exposed because the gold fell away. That’s pretty common on the “dust” style kinsai applications, especially when they’re this old. My options here are: a) attempt to replace what is missing, b) attempt to clean up and remove the exposed sizing without disturbing what’s left of the gold and calling it a day, or c) not doing a goddamn thing and letting it be a symptom of being over a hundred goddamn years old.
Now you would think because of this giant fucking melon floating on the top of my shoulders and the fact that I just don’t let shit go to the extent that I have a whole goddamn blog where I scream at silk, that I would insist on every kimono that I own being in tip-top perfect shape. And that is really not true. I will not risk the artwork chasing perfect. I will not compromise structural integrity chasing perfect. Sometimes shit be old, and perfect isn’t an option. In this case, I’m leaning towards option c. I probably won’t do anything about it.
In order to repair the kinsai, I would need to remove the exposed and deteriorated sizing. To remove it, I would need a solvent. Usually vinegar works fine, and typically does nothing to bother the color of the silk. In this case? I don’t think vinegar would do it. The sizing is actually kind of…cured? It’s not even a little bit gummy like it tends to be, it’s just kind of like a bit of a shell that doesn’t want to crust off. I think I’d need to use something way more aggressive, like acetone. It is, technically, safe to put acetone on silk. It’s not going to damage the silk. It will absolutely fuck up a paint job, though, so here’s hoping you weren’t attached to whatever color that was. Mineral spirits wouldn’t do it at this age, and to be honest? I really just don’t want to be pouring solvents all over this thing. To what purpose? So I can fix something that I probably had to point out for anyone to really notice it anyway?
Nah. She’s fine.
With her perfect chirimen with hardly a single snag, her perfect lining with not a single spot of wear or fading, and a straight up solid dummy thicc hem that trails at impressively long 167cm (that’s huge for a Meiji kimono), I don’t need to do shit. She’s perfect. Welcome home, you beautiful bitch. Hang out on the iko a bit near my humidifier to relax those wrinkles, and there’s a tatoushi (rice paper textile wrapper) waiting for you.
A fine Meiji Era kurohikifurisode adorned with tsuru (cranes) carrying sprigs of matsu (pine), flying through clouds of gold, sporting five maruni maru zakura (a circle with a cherry blossom in it) kamon.
Also can we take two seconds to admire that someone took the time to make tiny details on some of the tsuru (cranes) crest feathers, and did gold couching on the tiniest little pine cones you’ve ever seen? They’re adorable, and I have an overwhelming urge to put them in my mouth because I am not well.